When you've got to go, how do you know where to go?
September 2, 2010 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Go Where? Sex, Gender, and Toilets.
posted by hermitosis (159 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Feminist Hulk approves. No smash.

HULK SAYS FUCK PATRIARCHY. HULK HERE TO SMASH GENDER BINARY.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:08 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oops forgot link. Dopey gender oppressor. Feministhulk
posted by Keith Talent at 1:09 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and beetles are naturally masculine because they’re not pretty

I beg to differ.
posted by msali at 1:11 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related.
posted by hermitosis at 1:11 PM on September 2, 2010


Oh, this is great.

In case you don't make it to the comments:
I can perhaps shed some light on the golem/diver dichotomy. On Jeju, there are many small statues made from the island’s volcanic rock (kind of like Easter Island) of “grandfathers.”

Whereas traditionally, the women of Jeju have been fearless divers in the cold and treacherous water. They dive in search of shellfish, mostly.
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on September 2, 2010


I know.

There's something really beautiful about this line; for some reason I kept trying to figure out different ways for the line to break:

They dive in search of shellfish, mostly.

Also in the comments, in case you don't get there, is the argument diffusing but (to me at least) somewhat comforting:

I’m not really trying to say that these signs are all “bad”, just that they’re revealing of the way that we think about sex, gender and sexuality. (Although a couple of them certainly are rather horrible)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:15 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know whether I get more upset by the times I just sail on in to the properly gendered bathroom or the times I have to stop and figure out which one I'm supposed to use, generally due to some cutesy theme signage. Nor do I understand why public bathrooms in the US (at least) are gendered, yet in the home, we cheerfully share with people of other genders.
posted by QIbHom at 1:15 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fascinating!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2010


Nor do I understand why public bathrooms in the US (at least) are gendered, yet in the home, we cheerfully share with people of other genders.

Well, most home bathrooms are single-use. I definitely see non-gendered single-person bathrooms in California (often with cutesy signage to try and confuse people, like "Robots" and "Pirates" or something).

In my (private) college we had unisex multi-person bathrooms and it seemed fine to me. Never seen those in public, though.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:19 PM on September 2, 2010


Nor do I understand why public bathrooms in the US (at least) are gendered, yet in the home, we cheerfully share with people of other genders.
In the home, you probably don't have a urinal or trough to speed things up for the men. And in general, more than one guest isn't in there at the same time. Unless it's a really good party
posted by sanko at 1:19 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The stupidest thing about the male-female restroom symbols is that they have to be learned and even after they've been learned they have to be deciphered, and all of this takes as much time as it would take to learn to identify the words "men" and "women" if only by the shapes of the letters. Word ARE symbols.
posted by Faze at 1:19 PM on September 2, 2010


Really interesting. Also, I love FeministHulk.
posted by bearwife at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2010


In some pubs in Ireland they use the Gaelic Fir (men) and Mna (women). It's not uncommon for male tourists to end up in the ladies toilets thinking that Mna is man.
posted by Elmore at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gendering the bathrooms when there are multiple stalls makes some sense, especially if you have open urinals. But, yeah, having two one-toilet rooms, each with a locking door and its own sink, and separating them by gender seems pointless.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is one of those things that I've given a little thought to, but never really pondered too deeply, so reading it was a combination of "yeah, I've always wondered!" and "whoa, you just blew my mind!".
posted by padraigin at 1:21 PM on September 2, 2010


Word is symbols
posted by found missing at 1:21 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


That McDonald's sign for the women's restroom did not parse for me. My immediate thought was, "Why are they trying to balance a baby in a bassinet on top of a fountain?"

What's really missing from that entry would be signs of which the author would approve. Did I miss one? "Don't do this" is not enough; "do this" would provide a goal.
posted by adipocere at 1:23 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the west, I think the main barrier to unisex washrooms is the urinal. It's popular because it occupies less space in the building and it discourages collateral splash. But it necessitates apartheid because pointers don't want setters to see their junk. So it's not all about predatory males.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


I love what Bridgehead coffee shops here in Ottawa do. There are two washrooms, neither assigned to a particular gender. They are simply "occupied" and "unoccupied".
posted by LN at 1:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems to be pointing to the problem that the world has far too many graphic designers.
posted by Killick at 1:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


What's really missing from that entry would be signs of which the author would approve. Did I miss one? "Don't do this" is not enough; "do this" would provide a goal.
This was posted to the Sociological Images blog. It's not a "How To Sign Bathrooms" guide - it's an examination of how bathrooms are signed.
posted by muddgirl at 1:30 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


How soon we forget! We have to have separate bathrooms or else we will end up like those degenerates from Ally McBeal.
posted by sarahnade at 1:31 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This one (spotted at the Chor-Su bazaar in Tashkent) seems pretty innocuous and unlikely to spark snark. Apart from the spelling, of course...
posted by aqsakal at 1:32 PM on September 2, 2010


What's really missing from that entry would be signs of which the author would approve

The implied conclusion seems to be that bathrooms should not be segregated along any gender or sex lines. To the extent privacy is demanded or required there should be non-gendered individual bathrooms. At least that's what I came away with.

This one (spotted at the Chor-Su bazaar in Tashkent) seems pretty innocuous and unlikely to spark snark.

The article discusses that very kind of sign and finds them wanting.
posted by jedicus at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2010


Nor do I understand why public bathrooms in the US (at least) are gendered, yet in the home, we cheerfully share with people of other genders.

There are quite a few unisex public toilets around Wellington, but some self-styled women's groups kicked up a huge fuss about them. Fortunately they didn't get much traction.

(As a dad with a daughter I have developed a newfound fondness for unixsex toilets.)
posted by rodgerd at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


A problem which seperate bathrooms is where and at what age people won't get totally offended at you taking your kids into the 'wrong' ones. I notice a lot more unisex bathrooms now though, no urinals. Especially in new build clubs and stuff. Of course then I always have to work out how to use their ridiculous sinks with taps that were designed by a non drunk already familiar with the system.
posted by shinybaum at 1:40 PM on September 2, 2010


I like separate bathrooms. Sometimes in the women's bathroom, women need to do things they'd prefer males (strangers, anyway) didn't see, and it's not always in the privacy of your own stall.

I wouldn't mind both being an option, unisex as well as women/men only, or at least a private restroom option (like those family toilets in some stores.)
posted by Malice at 1:41 PM on September 2, 2010


I also like separate bathrooms. Maybe it's the way I was raised or latent sexism or my being overly neurotic, but I'm really uncomfortable using the toilet with a woman in the room, even if I'm in a stall.
posted by griphus at 1:43 PM on September 2, 2010


women need to do things they'd prefer males (strangers, anyway) didn't see

I'm curious about this - I can't think of anything I do outside a bathroom stall that I wouldn't do in front of a male, strange or not.
posted by muddgirl at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2010


But if they stop gendering the bathrooms, how can I feel like a badass when us women-folk commandeer a mens room during a time of great need?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2010 [20 favorites]


Thanks for this - I really liked that it was so well written, and not a heavy-handed discourse in gender studies, but more a 'make you think' piece, and therefore is likely to get more readers thinking about this.

As a mother with a six year old son who now insists on going to the men's, I would love unisex public toilets (and I just generally think they make sense, regardless).
posted by Megami at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2010


I'm surprised to see so many explicit and implied images of penises, vaginas, breasts, and people peeing to identify restrooms. Having grown up in America and not spent alot of time traveling, I would have thought that images like that would be totally inappropriate for a public place. Is this another instance of weird American prudery?
posted by amethysts at 1:49 PM on September 2, 2010


I'm sorry, I find this article to be kind of silly. Interesting collection, but the writing still seems to imply a judgment of the signage. Yet some of the examples given were not particularly offensive and still very clear. I find a sign like this to be cute and endearing. And this one, with the line-drawing of bra and panties, is pretty unambiguous without being overly laden with Hegemony or whatever. And this one as well as this one, or the ones like it here and here are cleverly blunt.

So as an interesting collection of cute, confusing, and overly abstract women/men restroom signs it's neat. Some are overly presumptive of gender norms, and others are confusing as fuck (like the red/green apple one). But where I think the article goes astray is in suggesting a deep-seated oppression of women as inferior found in bathroom signs, or drawing a bit too many conclusions.
posted by hincandenza at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


During my time in Japan I noticed that, although the public toilets are sexually segregated, female janitorial staff cleaned regardless of whether men were using the toilets or not. There'd be this group of men at the urinals and some old woman mopping the floor behind them.

As far as I could tell Male janitorial staff, who seemed to be much less common than female, never cleaned the women's toilets.

I've never really gotten the whole sexually segregated toilets thing myself. It seems like a remnant Victorian oddity to my mind.

What I'd like to see are signs that describe other binaries:

Coke & Pepsi

Mac & PC

Carbon & Silicon

Light & Dark

Vacuum & Atmosphere

Hot & Cold

Etc. If nothing else it would be amusing to see people expecting sexually segregated bathrooms dither about which to use.
posted by sotonohito at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2010


There are two washrooms, neither assigned to a particular gender. They are simply "occupied" and "unoccupied".

That's great, if you're a small business and handling a relatively small volume of customers. But it doesn't scale well.

Consider a couple of situations: In both of these situations, what you probably want are urinals. They're more efficient when dealing with a lot of people, both in time and water usage, and you can relieve (snigger) a lot of load from the traditional toilets by using them. (Say 90% of bathroom users just want to pee, and half are men: 45% of your bathroom usages can then use a male urinal, which you can pack in far more tightly than stalls and can even be waterless.) Urinals also direct guys who just want to pee away from the toilets, keeping them a bit cleaner for longer. (I guess you could try mandating that guys sit to pee, but good luck enforcing that.)

My preferred solution is that you have two bathrooms: one "urinal room" that's nothing but urinals and handwash sinks, and another "toilet room" that's toilet stalls and handwash sinks. But I think you'd have a major 'user training issue' before people would understand and accept that the urinal room isn't the "mens" and the toilet room isn't necessarily the "womens", although at any given time the majority of users -- barring the introduction and acceptance of universally acceptable urinals -- in the urinal room would be men and in the toilet room would be women. I think you'd have a lot of guys running around desperately looking for a place to go #2 that wasn't full of women.

I think there's a limit to how far you can lead public expectations when designing bathrooms. If you make people too uncomfortable, they're going to work around the design, possibly in ways that you don't like (e.g., in the above example, possibly by shitting in the urinals).
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is this another instance of weird American prudery?

Indeed it is: Caganer, Tio de Nadal, Manneken Pis.
posted by griphus at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2010


The implied conclusion seems to be that bathrooms should not be segregated along any gender or sex lines. To the extent privacy is demanded or required there should be non-gendered individual bathrooms. At least that's what I came away with.

This is what I came away with as well, which makes Marissa's ire seem somewhat misplaced. I think sign designers have done a pretty decent job, considering that they have to work entirely within the realm of codifying gender stereotypes. I don't think it's the designers who came up with the idea of segregated bathrooms.
posted by Dr. Send at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


what you probably want are urinals

Actually, what you want is ground-level troughs, that standers can piss into and sitters can squat over, with a few signed handicapped stalls.
posted by muddgirl at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dividing single-toilet/unstalled bathrooms by sex is silly -- it just increases the line-up for one or the other. (One time, I saw was three men lined up waiting to use the gents - I pointed out that the ladies was just a single-use room and that they could easily use that).

But we do need sex-segregated public multi-stall washrooms. Because men use urinals and deserve privacy, and obviously they are not very watched areas so there could be a problem with sexual predators for women. (Yes, very few men are sexual predators - and men are more likely to be mugged than women are to be attacked by a stranger - but an unwatched uni-sex bathroom does set up a dangerous place of opportunity for the few crazies, and men targetting women is more common than men targetting men or women targetting women in terms of assaults).

As for trans people: they should use the bathroom for the gender that they consider themselves to belong to. Any woman who is worried about another woman who just happens to have an XY chromozone and maybe some dangly bits is silly. Also, all little children should go into the bathroom of the gender of the adult, because they are clearly not a problem and when else will little girls learn all about the mysterious urinal? If they are old enough to care about being in the wrong bathroom, they are old enough to go on their own.
posted by jb at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2010


...how can I feel like a badass when us women-folk commandeer a mens room during a time of great need?

And how can I feel like a sneaky ninja when I use the (single-occupancy) ladies' room in a bar when whoever is in the guys room is sure as hell taking his sweet goddamn time in there.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I'd like to see are signs that describe other binaries

Sitters & Standers?
posted by burnmp3s at 1:55 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


suggesting a deep-seated oppression of women as inferior found in bathroom signs

My take-away message was not that women were inferior, but that men were default "human" while women were "other."
posted by muddgirl at 1:55 PM on September 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


I would like a solution that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable when the women in my office send me into their restroom to kill a particularly large roach. Can signage do that? Inclusive signage that still respects my masculinity while at the same time noting that I am transgressing with limited permission at the behest of the owners who are themselves self-reinforcing the stereotypes regarding their gender and how they deal with vermin?

I'm thinking a white knight, holding aloft a squirming spider impaled on his mighty sword.
posted by adipocere at 1:56 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm curious about this - I can't think of anything I do outside a bathroom stall that I wouldn't do in front of a male, strange or not.

I know personally I often have to use the bathroom mirror to adjust myself in ways that I would feel totally uncomfortable doing in front of male strangers, like re-tuck my shirt or pull up my straps or brush my hair or check my face after eating. I'm not sure why it would make me uncomfortable but it's the truth. I guess it's because guys I don't know default to scary and I don't want them looking at me during semi-private moments. Girls are okay because they're more predictably uninterested in another girl's bra straps.
posted by amethysts at 1:57 PM on September 2, 2010


I read the entire thing twice and I can't tell if they're angry at this or just academically talking about the signs? The blogpost makes me very uncomfortable with its passive-aggressiveness.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:58 PM on September 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


To many people the separation of the two, and the signs used to distinguish them, may seem innocuous and necessary. Trans people know that this is not the case, and that public battles have been waged over who is allowed to use which washroom.

Dr. Robert Wagner:
"I'm gonna put a ball bat in my car, and if I ever see a guy (transgender individual) coming out of a bathroom that my granddaughter's in, I'm gonna use the ball bat on him...In the good old days, before 'she-males' existed, they just called such people perverts."
posted by ericb at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2010


Typically, these signs depict men as people, and women as people in skirts:

On what are they basing the assumption that that man isn't wearing a suit?
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Because men use urinals and deserve privacy

You obviously haven't been to a music festival lately - lots of porta-potties (not really segregated by sex) and in the 'courtyard' of one collection of them a stand or two of open air urinals was the set up at some this season. No privacy going on there.

Also, why is it that getting your penis out in front of women is such an awful thing, but men it's not? Because you are worried they will judge you? Hit on you? Laugh at you?

Finally - I have walked in to the men's a few times (long story) while guys were going about their business at the urinals. I managed to not look at them. If guys are that worried about us seeing their penis (or bare bums for that matter) take it to the stalls.
posted by Megami at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


On what are they basing the assumption that that man isn't wearing a suit?

The male figure is an utterly generic silhouette. The only reason he would be wearing a suit because the female is clothed and comparing him, you assume he is clothed.
posted by griphus at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


(I guess you could try mandating that guys sit to pee, but good luck enforcing that.)

Your example here, Kadin, made me snicker--I didn't interpret it as strictly encouraging guys to sit to pee, but to discourage people in general from "hovering"--and thereby hosing down the toilet seat--rather than sitting their ass down properly. (If you've been in a public ladies' room you will understand this phenomenon all too well.)

That's why I laugh at the "sitters v. standers" dichotomy, too--I almost see it as more a "tidy v. nasty" dichotomy, regardless of gender.
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:02 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've seen inside women's bathrooms from time to time. They have frigging couches in there. Where exactly am I supposed to relax, besides perching on an unseemly, unsanitary commode? My male parts and I demand an end to this injustice immediately!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of the unisex bathrooms I've ever seen are single-seaters. Nobody has to "do" anything in front of anybody. Velvet and Jaro Blue in Calgary (two very cool restos, one downtown, the other on 17th SW) both have a unisex element to the degree that people wash their hands in one common area, but the poops and pees are done in private.

My freshman dorm (Reed College, Akerman dorm [now demolished]) was co-ed and the fucking bathrooms were too, aside from the showers which were sex-segregated. So we did in fact have to poop and pee and use the fucking URINAL in thrall of the women in the dorm (and vice versa, minus women using the urinal). I hate that- I would use the toilet at the gym or, if I got lucky, went in the single-seater next to the little dorm kitchen.

But to the blog- I love the pictures, lots of creative bathroom signs out there, but the narrative is so... Women's Studies 101. "Men are people." Yes, patriarchy sucks ass, especially men are forced into one bland archetype while women have all that wonderful diversity and get to wear such pretty clothes and are so much freer than men are.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Many of these are not symptomatic of patriarchy so much as just graphic designers trying to be overly cute.
posted by rocket88 at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


forgot to italicise quote above, sorry
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2010


but the narrative is so... Women's Studies 101

Um, yes. That is kind of the purpose. Of the blog.
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, why is it that getting your penis out in front of women is such an awful thing, but men it's not?

We, as men, have very complicated etiquette rules for just this thing. It works out so that we are not actually just "getting our penis out in front of" eachother.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:05 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


The male figure is an utterly generic silhouette.

I dunno about that. The lack of identifiable hips and the broad shoulders are (weakly) masculine characteristics. Not that there aren't women who could fit that silhouette, but it's not utterly generic, either.
posted by jedicus at 2:07 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, what you want is ground-level troughs

As a frequent pisser in trough-style urinals in old buildings, ground level aiming sucks.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cape Cod is absolutely riddled with bathrooms labeled "Buoys" and "Gulls"

Further from de-gendering bathrooms, I want a universal symbol that lets you know if the bathroom is a single-room or a stall-situation
posted by Riptor at 2:10 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


ground level aiming sucks.

Well, sure, but we're talking about stadium-style "get 'em in, get 'em out" bathrooms. If you piss all over the floor, someone will hose it down later.
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to work in a bar which had two unisex bathrooms in a little alcove with the doors facing each other. This being a high-falutin' kind of place, neither door was labeled with anything. From the bar you could see customers walk up to the doors, glance left and right confusedly, look around for guidance, and then finally to me, whereupon I would give some sort of non-committal (e.g. "Choose your own adventure."). No matter which door those chose though, I would always yell out, "No wait! Not that one!" right as they started to open the door. Everyone jumped, every time.

They fired me, eventually.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:12 PM on September 2, 2010 [42 favorites]


Thinking of some of the men's rooms I've seen/heard male friends talk about in terms of cleanliness... uh, I'm pretty happy with women's-only rooms.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:13 PM on September 2, 2010


Oh, and FWIW, I consider the appropriate restroom to use to be the unoccupied one.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The male figure is an utterly generic silhouette. The only reason he would be wearing a suit because the female is clothed and comparing him, you assume he is clothed.

I think this is historical confusion. The male/female washroom signs are old. When they were created (and this is long before they were adopted as an ISO standard thirty years ago) it was universally assumed in the West that men would wear trousers and women skirts or dresses. The man, therefore, is not 'generic' but 'trousered'.

Now, of course, they do seem much more generic, but the 'women in skirts' standard was so universally normed in the 19th and early 20th century that women in trousers were at times considered mildly scandalous.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


someone will hose it down later.
Who will hose down my shoes? (Besides other people pissing)
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:15 PM on September 2, 2010


I have no idea whatever whether it's the same in other locations, but one thing is glaringly obvious in Italy: at the highway service stations, especially in the summer holiday season, the queue for the women's toilets stretches right round the block, while the men are in and out in seconds. If I make a pit-stop with Mrs aqsakal, I have time for a pee, a hamburger and fries and a coffee while she is still queueing. OK, so we males are pretty fast with our peeing, but still - one would think the architects would take that into account and provide three times as much space for the women's loos as for the men's. Or alternatively provide unisex toilets.
posted by aqsakal at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2010


agsakal, I'm pretty certain that that phenomenon is not limited to service stations, highway service stations, or Italy.
posted by amethysts at 2:18 PM on September 2, 2010


How about bathrooms that are labeled "Stand-up" and "Sit-down." If you want to pee standing up, you use the standup one that is just urinals. To sit down to pee (fyi, some men do this) or do anything else, you use "Sit-down" which is rows and rows of stalls.

This is smarter for a lot of reasons. First, the stand-up one (with urinals) can be smaller and accommodate a lot of men. I've seen some men's rooms where the urinals are actually a gigantic wall with a trough of trickling water at the bottom. Yes, it's pretty gross, but only marginally moreso than a regular urinal.

Second, the stand-up one doesn't have to be stocked with toilet paper, so there's an efficiency there. The sit down one can be made larger (taking some of the space that would ordinarily be used for stalls in a men's room).

Now a lot of women are going to say, "Gross! I don't want to use a toilet that some strange man just pooped in!" It ain't any worse than using one some strange woman dropped a deuce in, let me tell you. And women might complain that they like to chat with their friends while they are in the stalls in the ladies rooms, and having men interspersed therebetween would ruin that social element for them. Take it to facebook, ladies. Civilization depends on one simple lavatory rule: no talking more than 3 feet from the sinks.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nor do I understand why public bathrooms in the US (at least) are gendered, yet in the home, we cheerfully share with people of other genders.

Because guys piss faster than women. We piss so fast, and with so little care of the glances of other men that we don't even need our own little vestibules.

If all public restrooms were non-gendered, urinals would be banned and men would be the ones that invariably have to suffer because of what amounts to female inadequacies. If women don't mind sharing urinals with guys, then sure, share. But that's not what would happen. What would happen is it would take approximately ten nanoseconds for the first lecherous drunk guy to make a pass at a woman waiting for a stall, and she would cry foul because having to suffer such sexist indignities is just not right! and we'd be right back again to separate facilities.

I shall now don my flame suit, which won't even require the use of a special dressing room.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually, what you want is ground-level troughs, that standers can piss into and sitters can squat over, with a few signed handicapped stalls.
posted by muddgirl at 4:53 PM on September 2


Actually what we really want are catheters and stock in Ziploc.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:23 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, so we males are pretty fast with our peeing

There's a flipside to this: men have to go much more frequently, what with that pesky prostate and all.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:26 PM on September 2, 2010


To many people the separation of the two, and the signs used to distinguish them, may seem innocuous and necessary. Trans people know that this is not the case, and that public battles have been waged over who is allowed to use which washroom.

Yeah this. I've been a gurl my whole life, but with minor variations, my hair's always been short. Really short. I've had a couple jolting moments heading in or out of a women's rest room, being accosted by some person who believes that *females must wear their hair long and modest.*

"Hold on there buddy! You can't go in there! That's the Ladies' Room!"

I shudder to imagine what would happen if my femaleness didn't ultimately fulfill their checklist.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:28 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Actually what we really want are catheters and stock in Ziploc.

There's a flipside to this: men have to go much more frequently, what with that pesky prostate and all.

Not with the Stadium Pal!
posted by griphus at 2:31 PM on September 2, 2010


I love this topic. It's such a wonderful convergence of design, language, pragmatics, semiotics, culture, gender, sex, sexuality and sociology. And a splash of the scatological to boot!

And that is partly why I feel that none of the signage solutions will be sufficient so long as we are stuck in this ridiculously inadequate binary frame that conflates gender, gender expression, sex, and sexuality and then sorts and divides them down two party lines. Unisex all the way! Let new emergent behavior norms sort out the rest.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:31 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


On trans people in public bathrooms, I made a comment just recently about that.

My favourite WTF toilet sign came from some pub I was in years ago that used little engraved pictures of chamber pots. On the ladies' loo the chamber pot was on the floor, but on the men's it was upside down in the air, possibly signifying that once the women were done peeing the men would wear the chamber pot as a hat.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:32 PM on September 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


"In this sign, we see that men have torsos, and women have floating, disembodied boobs"

That one must be near Hollywood.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:33 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This one is from Sangunburi Crater, on Jeju Island in South Korea. I’m assuming there’s an explanation for why the woman has a scuba mask on her head, and why the man is golem, but I don’t know what it is.
posted by delmoi at 2:35 PM on September 2, 2010


I guess urinals are probably a little bit cheaper, but I'm sure it must be more expensive to build and provide plumbing to 2 rooms.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 2:37 PM on September 2, 2010


Unisex-only bathrooms will pose problems for people who have religious explanations supporting segregating genders. In college, my Arabic TA wore niqab. Full, solid-colored, black niqab. You could see her eyes, but she wore glasses. The ends were tucked inside behind her cloth-covered ears. Everything but her eyes was covered.

One day, I was doing my thing in the bathroom of our student union building at George Mason University. The school has a very large Muslim population. So large, such that when the building was built, the bathrooms were built with specially designed basins for Muslims to perform their ablutions. There were a few other niqabis on campus, so it wasn't too unusual to see someone fully covered.

But so I go and use the bathroom, wash up, and give myself a check. A lady says "hey raztaj! how's it going?" I see her. I'm like... "What? Who are you? I don't recognize you?" At least, that's what went through my head for the very long 10 seconds of silence while I tried to place her. Then I recognized the rims of her glasses. It was my TA. "Ohhhhhhhh so that's what she looks like," I thought silently. But you know, it was the ladies bathroom, and she was allowed to take off her niqab and fix herself up a little in the privacy of other women.

I don't know. You're never going to please everyone. And what about locker rooms? People who have religious objections to gender mixing in bathrooms will always want a gendered space. Of course, this causes complications for members of the trans community. The best thing you can do is have a third unisex option. And put some changing tables in the mens room while your at it.
posted by raztaj at 2:39 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


My take-away message was not that women were inferior, but that men were default "human" while women were "other."

My take-away has always been completely different, muddgirl: women can be easily identified with a unique silhouette (men almost never wear dresses), while men are relegated to the generic silhouette.

You can choose to be offended by this; so can I. Or we can just pick our restroom & shit in relative, gendered comfort.

Assuming we're not TS/TG.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:39 PM on September 2, 2010


The most confusing signage I've seen was in a bathroom in Madrid - the bathrooms were distinguished by a picture of the sun and a picture of the moon. I (correctly?) decided that I was a lady-like "la luna".

The best solution I've seen to the issue raised by the article are places that have men's rooms, women's rooms, and single occupancy unisex handicap/family stalls. Of course, that doesn't get into the authors "some women have penis and hate skirts" criticism, but it does solve practical problems for more people.

They have frigging couches in there.

Couches and such are not actually present in all women's rooms, in case you were wonder. I've always assumed they were used as a semi-private place to breast feed.

I'm curious about this - I can't think of anything I do outside a bathroom stall that I wouldn't do in front of a male, strange or not.

A lot of women aren't comfortable asking for sanitary products in front of men.
posted by fermezporte at 2:40 PM on September 2, 2010


Related.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:40 PM on September 2, 2010


But if we put symbols on bathroom doors that weren't exaggerated cultural constructs, how would we know what bathrooms to use? (Kind of a modernist concern, I know, I know.)


I'm all for unisex bathrooms, but I don't see a lot of suggestions on the table as to how to fix current signage concerns.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2010


You can choose to be offended by this; so can I. Or we can just pick our restroom & shit in relative, gendered comfort. Assuming we're not TS/TG.

I just want to point out that, in these sorts of threads, "offended" is rarely (perhaps never) a word I used to describe myself or someone else, and yet it is quite often ascribed to me.

Not a criticism, IAmBroom. Just an observation.
posted by muddgirl at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Weird. I always figured the bathrooms were "Scotsmen" and "non-Scotsmen".
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also related: a directory of unisex and accessible public washrooms
posted by bewilderbeast at 2:48 PM on September 2, 2010


In the Penultimate Picture Palace, a flea-pit repertory cinema just off the Cowley Road in Oxford, the toilets used to be labelled Pearl and Dean, with matching male and female statues, in case you hadn't visited the cinema in the UK during the 1970s but needed to know which toilet to use anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 2:50 PM on September 2, 2010


I think this sums up my feelings towards group unisex bathrooms and the blog title:



ADIPOCERE, obviously panicked, speedwalks to a restroom, only to find a set of new, strange signage and MEG TILLY in front of him

ADIPOCERE: MEG! I gotta go! I gotta go right now!

MEG TILLY: Listen to me, ADI.

ADIPOCERE: No, you don't understand! I gotta go!

MEG TILLY: Go … where?

ADIPOCERE: No, I gotta go to the men's room, what the hell are you talking about?

MEG TILLY: ADI, this is important. Go where? … That's right. Go where? What happened to this restroom — are you listening? — what happened to this restroom is not an isolated incident. It is something that is happening everywhere, to everyone. So - where you gonna go? Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere. Because there's no one … like you … left. That's right.

ADIPOCERE: Oh god.

MEG TILLY: That's right. That's good, listening now, that's very good. Okay, now, I know you're frightened, ADI. I know you're scared. That's okay. I understand that. You're confused. Let me tell you somethin', ADI. Let me tell you — all that anger, all that fear, all that confusion is gonna melt away, it's going to go away, ADI, it's going to go away. Go to sleep, wake up, it's very simple, in the morning, you'll wake up and feel wonderful and we'll be together, more connected, more close …
posted by adipocere at 2:52 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


As we are stuck in this ridiculously inadequate binary frame that conflates gender, gender expression, sex, and sexuality and then sorts and divides them down two party lines. Unisex all the way!

I suspect a lot of people, women, men and sexy robots will have big problems with this. You can't just wish away the potential for rudeness, abuse, assult or even just plain old discomfort. Group bathrooms I suspect will always be gendered. It's a solution that works for most people. It's good enough.

A perfect solution would be a seperate bathroom for every gender, intersex or sexual state, requiring at least three, if not more types of bathrooms. Expensive. There would consequently be less public/workplace bathrooms because they would cost more to build.

A recent trend is to add a third explicit "other" bathroom: handicapped, familiy, executive. A two+one arrangement is probably as far as it's even vagely reasonable to go.
posted by bonehead at 2:53 PM on September 2, 2010



~~~~~~
[ ]
! !
! !
( ) ( )
posted by Not Supplied at 2:57 PM on September 2, 2010


Justinian: Weird. I always figured the bathrooms were "Scotsmen" and "non-Scotsmen".
No true Scotsman would use the trousered-person's bathroom.
posted by hincandenza at 2:57 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


(^)
/\
//\\
///\\\
\\//
\/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
posted by Not Supplied at 2:59 PM on September 2, 2010


OK, so we males are pretty fast with our peeing, but still - one would think the architects would take that into account and provide three times as much space for the women's loos as for the men's.

Google "potty parity laws." In the US, these are used to require more women's toilets (I think it's 2x or 3x as many as men's) so that women don't have this problem as much.

Italy being Italy, I'm guessing they don't actually care.
posted by emjaybee at 3:00 PM on September 2, 2010


> As for trans people: they should use the bathroom for the gender that they consider themselves to belong to.

ArmyofKittens covered this pretty well a little upthread, but I'll just add that this is a great idea in theory, not so great in current practice. If I happen to be in the bathroom at the same time as anyone else, I have a pretty good chance of getting the stinkeye or a comment about being in the wrong place no matter which one I picked. The men's is safer, generally, because of the code under which you do not acknowledge that anyone else is actually in the room while you're pissing.

In my current field, fewer than 10% of the active researchers are women. While still acknowledging that this statistic pretty much sucks, part of me appreciates that now if I end up having to use the women's bathroom, at least there won't be anyone else there to give me shit about it and/or look at me like I'm some kind of creep just because I needed to pee.
posted by dorque at 3:01 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we're taking that article as a sociological study, and not just a gripe about bathroom signage, it seemed a little bit light on citation/analysis, and heavy on opinion.
How could such a thing be given a more objective, provable structure? I see this as a problem for feminist studies in general.

I mean this as a serious, open minded question, not a troll. I'm behind the idea, and I think resolving that problem would do the cause a lot of good.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:14 PM on September 2, 2010


"Shakers" and "wipers".
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:15 PM on September 2, 2010


If we're taking that article as a sociological study

It's not a sociological study. It's a blog post that describes itself as "a typology and analysis of various washroom signs".
posted by muddgirl at 3:17 PM on September 2, 2010


Then I recognized the rims of her glasses. It was my TA. "Ohhhhhhhh so that's what she looks like," I thought silently. But you know, it was the ladies bathroom, and she was allowed to take off her niqab and fix herself up a little in the privacy of other women.

sooooo -- did you say hi? cause that's another awkward part about bathrooms, even if you externally match the gender on the sign - running into someone on a different authority level than you. I'm not a shy bathroom goer, but if I knew I had to go make a joyful noise, I'd head to a different part of the building, where at least I wouldn't run into my boss.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:18 PM on September 2, 2010



It's not a sociological study. It's a blog post that describes itself as "a typology and analysis of various washroom signs".


Carry on then. I saw a couple references to it as one earlier in the thread. ;) The question stands, it's just irrelevant now. Dur.

I that case... if it's a criticism of signage, we're back to "I have a hard time imaging an effective sign that didn't rely on culturally constructed notions of gender."
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:20 PM on September 2, 2010


Let new emergent behavior norms sort out the rest.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be the one in charge of cleaning up those "emergent behavior norms."
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:20 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


On what are they basing the assumption that that man isn't wearing a suit?

The male figure is an utterly generic silhouette. The only reason he would be wearing a suit because the female is clothed and comparing him, you assume he is clothed.


man it's hard to get a rise out of you people.

posted by Lutoslawski at 3:25 PM on September 2, 2010


What a profoundly silly article.

A MUCH better article would be the question of why establishments feel the need to label single-stall restrooms with genders. If the two bathrooms are identical, why do we need to say one is for men and the other for women?

And while I'm at it, what's up with Miracle Whip STILL labeling themselves as salad dressing? They're a fucking sandwich spread!!!
posted by bpm140 at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a profoundly silly article.

How?
posted by muddgirl at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2010


MetaFilter: a wonderful convergence of design, language, pragmatics, semiotics, culture, gender, sex, sexuality and sociology. And a splash of the scatological to boot!
posted by Widepath at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]



And while I'm at it, what's up with Miracle Whip STILL labeling themselves as salad dressing? They're a fucking sandwich spread!!!


I use it with siracha to make dip, this isn't a binary choice.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:48 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


sandwich spread

Hey fuck you, insensitive asshole.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:50 PM on September 2, 2010


If we're taking that article as a sociological study

It's not a sociological study. It's a blog post that describes itself as "a typology and analysis of various washroom signs".


It's incredibly biased to start with the assumption that "Men are people, and women are other," though. That's not analysis, that's bringing your own baggage to the table. You could just as easily see the signs depicted as, "Women are people, Men are people who aren't allowed to wear skirts." Which is essentially true, nowadays, in my country; XX people can wear skirts or pants, but XY, despite kilts and men's skirts being featured in H&S, are looked on askance if they do so.

I support having a separate unisex bathroom, and have also seen "family" bathrooms and bathrooms for handicapped individuals and their attendants, but I can see the practicality of having gendered bathrooms for large areas like stadiums, etc. There are religious beliefs and societal mores that, just because I personally may not ascribe to them, are no less worthy of consideration than the physical considerations of the transgendered.
posted by misha at 3:55 PM on September 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


misha: "It's incredibly biased to start with the assumption that "Men are people, and women are other," though. That's not analysis, that's bringing your own baggage to the table. You could just as easily see the signs depicted as, "Women are people, Men are people who aren't allowed to wear skirts." Which is essentially true, nowadays, in my country; XX people can wear skirts or pants, but XY, despite kilts and men's skirts being featured in H&S, are looked on askance if they do so."

I agree. It never even remotely crossed my mind as "men are people, and women are not." I always just saw it as a man wearing pants, not that it was representing the human race..
posted by Deflagro at 4:04 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


A year or so ago, I went to a literary event in an alternative club in the city. The toilets were downstairs. There were two doors from the hall into the toilets, but there was just one room, with a couple of sinks and a row of stalls.

As the host explained, given the nature of the club, this was simpler than enforcing a gender binary. The club was also dry, normally, and everybody there was familiar with the usual sorts of modern sex and gender issues.

Having said that, it was a bit odd the first time I had to use the facilities and struck up a conversation with the attractive young woman washing her hands beside me.

The issue with having "M", "F", and "family", is that at least one writer has recently commented that they risked being seen as a freak for using the "family" room all by themself. (note also the crossover from the gender-neutral third person pronoun thread)
posted by djfiander at 4:14 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I usually just piss in the parking lot.
posted by nestor_makhno at 4:14 PM on September 2, 2010


misha: "It's incredibly biased to start with the assumption that "Men are people, and women are other," though."

I just assumed it was a really clumsy way (or perhaps just oversimplified way) of stating that men are the unmarked gender; everybody else is marked. In an unmarked/marked labeling system, the unmarked category is the norm, default or metonymic stand-in for the supra category (in this case, 'people') and the marked category is the 'other'.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:19 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Girls are okay because they're more predictably uninterested in another girl's bra straps.

Why is that? Because they're not sexually interested in you? You're making two assumptions here: #1) men are attracted to women and are interested in their bra straps, #2) women are not attracted to women and thus are uninterested.

Both are faulty.
posted by sonika at 4:31 PM on September 2, 2010


Which is probably why they wrote "more predictably" not "always". I think everyone is aware of the existence of gay people, the thing is a lot of the locker room issues (the DADT justifying stuff) is kind of bullshit. Gay people are for the most part used to dealing with same gender situations without being assholes about it because of years of socialization forcing them into those situations.

Men and Women could easily learn how to behave in a unisex situation as well, but it would take a lot of changes in the way we socialize kids from a young age and that can be a tough sell.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:35 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Men don't want to share a toilet with women, because men don't want women to find out how rarely the men wash their hands.
posted by djfiander at 4:38 PM on September 2, 2010


I think everyone is aware of the existence of gay people, the thing is a lot of the locker room issues (the DADT justifying stuff) is kind of bullshit.

My point being the assumption made that men do care because men are necessarily both heterosexual and interested in what's going on with your bra. Which, granted, is a bigger problem than bathroom signs in terms of cultural entrenchment, but is still completely faulty.
posted by sonika at 4:40 PM on September 2, 2010


A bar I used to frequent had promo pics of Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton from "Best little Whorehouse in Texas" to label the restrooms. I think this covers the entire spectrum of gender identity, and should be adopted as a universal standard.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:42 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


My point being the assumption made that men do care because men are necessarily both heterosexual and interested in what's going on with your bra.


Yes, as I said, everyone can learn how to behave in a unisex bathroom. In this situation that means that a man who is interested doesn't show it, and it means that the woman in the example would have to be socialized not to worry about being in a state of semi-undress. You could replace the genders any which way there, the point is socialization would have to come first, and that for the most part that socialization has already occurred in same sex bathroom situations.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:45 PM on September 2, 2010


Both are faulty.

Testify! I have no use for men or women; I just want to watch the bra-straps sink into quicksand.
posted by everichon at 4:49 PM on September 2, 2010


I usually just look for an unlit doorway, myself.
posted by jonmc at 5:04 PM on September 2, 2010


A bar I used to frequent had promo pics of Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton from "Best little Whorehouse in Texas" to label the restrooms. I think this covers the entire spectrum of gender identity, and should be adopted as a universal standard.

I used to frequent the same bar and was coming in to mention it.

Burt was all over the inside of the ladies room though.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:05 PM on September 2, 2010



"My point being the assumption made that men do care because men are necessarily both heterosexual and interested in what's going on with your bra"


No, I'm aware that there are people who aren't straight and I know that the vast majority of people, gay or straight, do not care about watching me adjust myself in the bathroom. It's just that for me, it's a semi-private place to do semi-private things where the people who would bother me are highly unlikely to show up. I was taught that it was impolite attention to that kind of thing in public - one bathroom for everyone would become a public place. I would be surprised if this wasn't a common sentiment.

I agree that socialization is a huge part of this. Maybe they could start with unisex bathrooms for preschoolers and then gradually move them up as those preschoolers grow up. (I remember the concept of seperate bathrooms for girls and boys actually blowing my mind when I was in preschool. Also the paper towel dispenser that you turned the crank to dispense them.)
posted by amethysts at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2010


That should say "impolite to draw attention to that kind of thing in public".
posted by amethysts at 5:24 PM on September 2, 2010


My preferred solution is that you have two bathrooms: one "urinal room" that's nothing but urinals and handwash sinks, and another "toilet room" that's toilet stalls and handwash sinks.

That's pretty much the set-up at every big outdoor music festival I've ever been to. A set of porta-potties (with an endless line of unhappy-looking women and a few dudes), and then a fast-moving and perfectly happy row of guys peeing on a hedge. Indoors, that would take user-training (as someone mentioned above) but outdoors there never seems to be any confusion.

Oh, except for the "handwashing" part, I guess.

Anyway, I really liked the pictures. I've been in plenty of bars with really confusing labels, and sometimes it can be a real head-scratcher.
posted by Forktine at 5:35 PM on September 2, 2010


I went to some little cafe -- in Philly somewhere, I think -- in a converted house, where the single-stall half-bath restrooms were labeled "Republican" and "Democrat." Those were less polarized times and I was feeling independent, so I was conflicted, but went with the D at last.

You can choose to be offended by this . . .

I'm not carrying an outrage bucket here or anything, but this statement jumped out at me as needing some qualification. It's true that you can "choose" to be offended by something, in exactly the sense that you can "choose" to yelp when your finger gets slammed in a door.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:32 PM on September 2, 2010


Some of those signs are just awesome* unlike the ...analysis posted with them.

* though so confusing, how does one know if one is a red apple or a green apple?
posted by madajb at 6:40 PM on September 2, 2010


, the bathrooms were built with specially designed basins for Muslims to perform their ablutions.

Not having run into one of these, can you elaborate?
posted by madajb at 6:41 PM on September 2, 2010


I will admit that I have not read all of the comments. But I did scan/read the link. I think that the solution is simple.

Locked=stay out
Unlocked=use it

Many of the clubs that I used to frequent in the old days used this quite well. Why have any silly symbols at all?

Make sure you have a lock on either the actual door if there is only one toilet. Or Make sure that you have several stalls with toilets that lock solidly.

How often do you get so naked that the outside door needs a symbol?

Anything that you need to do can be done in a stall, no?
posted by Splunge at 6:48 PM on September 2, 2010


There's an Applebee's in Sao Paolo? Yeesh.
posted by koeselitz at 7:21 PM on September 2, 2010


Whatever symbol is on the door it would be best if it reminded one of the courtesy of washing up even if you just leaked your lizard. Man - it's bad out there. Once you start to notice; one busy airport lavatory is enough to make you never want to shake anyone's 'hand' again.

More to the point - I don't care what you put on the outside of the bathroom door - just make sure it swings outward so I can make a clean get away with my foot.

Facing a pull door handle on a potty sans paper ready-at-hand freaks me and my freshly washed hands out. If anyone has discovered a clever technique for opening such doors without touching the handle: I would love to hear them.
posted by astrobiophysican at 7:28 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You use the front bottom of your shirt, dude.
posted by hincandenza at 8:16 PM on September 2, 2010


I went to some little cafe -- in Philly somewhere, I think -- in a converted house, where the single-stall half-bath restrooms were labeled "Republican" and "Democrat." Those were less polarized times and I was feeling independent, so I was conflicted, but went with the D at last.

Funny you should mention this, Countess Elena, as I'm fairly certain you're talking about The White Dog Cafe, which is also home to the Pointer/Setter doors pictured in the article. At first I was annoyed that WDC, which has one of the most progressive viewpoints of any restaurant on the planet, was being used as one more example of places enforcing gender norms. I'm glad someone pointed this out to the author, who noted it in an update than now follows the picture.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:40 PM on September 2, 2010


The trans clinic where my bf used to go had a great idea for naming the bathrooms; they were named "spoon" and "spatula" because that was what was attached the key of the corresponding bathroom.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 9:05 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The eyelashes on the setter do come across as gendered though.
posted by mendel at 9:14 PM on September 2, 2010


What a smoking bowl of still-warm poo.

For example, in politics we see "women’s issues" segregated from everybody issues.

Yet over and over again, whenever someone floats the idea of eg. an official "men's issues" government minister or a "men's collective" at university, the same people kick up a stink.

When someone tried to start a men's collective at my university the shit royally hit the fan. It was the talk of the campus for weeks. "The effrontery of that man and his male supporters!"

[WO/MEN toilet signage]

Yawn. Just a play on words and spelling. In fact, I think it's a nice looking variation from the norm. Not too try-hard.

Language evolves lowly. What are we supposed to do. Invent new words every generation or so?

The most common type of washroom sign, pictured at the top of this post, is another example. Typically, these signs depict men as people, and women as people in skirts.

The most common type of washroom sign, pictured at the top of this post, is another example. Typically, these signs depict women as flamboyant people who can wear just about anything they want, and men as conformist pants wearers, trapped by society's norms.

And I've only just got started. Just about every sentence begs the question, it simply reeks of penis envy. I'm laughing.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:16 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most confusing signage I've seen was in a bathroom in Madrid - the bathrooms were distinguished by a picture of the sun and a picture of the moon. I (correctly?) decided that I was a lady-like "la luna".

130+ comments and no one has mentioned outhouses yet? The "half-moon" symbol traditionally associated with outhouses actually stands for "women's outhouse," while men's outhouses were symbolized by (you guessed it) the sun.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:15 PM on September 2, 2010


The most confusing signage I've seen was in a bathroom in Madrid - the bathrooms were distinguished by a picture of the sun and a picture of the moon. I (correctly?) decided that I was a lady-like "la luna".

That wouldn't work in German-speaking countries, however. Inexplicably, in German the Sun (die Sonne) is feminine, while the Moon (der Mond) is masculine. (And, OT but just for fun: "girl" - das Mädchen - is neuter!)

There's a flipside to this: men have to go much more frequently, what with that pesky prostate and all.

Yeah, but we (men) can go behind a bush or tree; most women can't or won't do that. (Although in Iran I saw totally-veiled ladies get off my bus, walk a few yards into the desert, suddenly reduce their height by about 50% for a few moments, stand up again and get back on the bus. It took me three pit-stops to realise what was going on. No signs anywhere, either.)

Of course, the whole issue can go political.
posted by aqsakal at 11:34 PM on September 2, 2010


Not having run into one of these, can you elaborate?

They pretty much looked like small shower stalls, but with a faucet closer to knee-length, and a raised tile area where you could sit and wash your feet, like this. They didn't have these in all of GMU's bathrooms, but in the main student union, where there was also a multi-faith prayer/meditation area.
posted by raztaj at 12:36 AM on September 3, 2010


Once I took my four-year-old daughter to the restroom on an airplane. She pointed and said, "This is the men's room!"

She was pointing to a pictogram of a person throwing trash in the proper place. And, of course, the pictogram for "person" was the same as the pictogram for "man."

I think I became a feminist that day.
posted by straight at 12:39 AM on September 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


They pretty much looked like small shower stalls, but with a faucet closer to knee-length, and a raised tile area where you could sit and wash your feet, like this.

Huh, well, there ya go, I learned something today.
thanks.
posted by madajb at 1:10 AM on September 3, 2010


Secondary sex characteristics in humans

Men generally have broader shoulders. Women generally have wider hips. We generally use indicators like this to see sex. So the standard images that visually display that are sensible and arguably non-sexist - the triangles with circles on top, for example. In contrast, while skirts can add to this visual iconography they are cultural, so they're less useful.
posted by alasdair at 1:23 AM on September 3, 2010


"Yet over and over again, whenever someone floats the idea of eg. an official "men's issues" government minister or a "men's collective" at university, the same people kick up a stink."

Yeah, I could see that happening. But not for the reasons you think. Starting a men's issues group is insulting and dismissive in that context, because it's not an equal move. The cat was out of the bag about the skewed gender politics before the women started a women's issues group. We all have to work to change things starting from the point we're at now, with the history we have up until, and move forward from there. Starting a "men's issues group" ignores that and naively assumes the gender inequality problem in this country can be fixed if we just act as though the playing field is now level from this point forward and the past is erased. If that were true, a men's issues group would be no big deal, because it wouldn't have any social meaning tied to its existence in relation to a women's issues group. It'd be just another group. With where we are now, it just can't be.

The rest of the examples also serve to simply point out the examples of binarily gendered signage. We're just being shown what currently is, that is all. We're not being asked to change the language, to start new protests, to call out restaurants on perceived sexism, or anything like that. We're challenged to notice the construct that is overwhelmingly present in our society. To see the subtleties about how its represented. And maybe to reflect on the history that got us here.

"Just about every sentence begs the question, it simply reeks of penis envy."

You're joking, right? I'm trying my damndest to take a charitable read here, but I got nothing. If not a joke, whatever do you mean?
posted by iamkimiam at 3:57 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Typically, these signs depict women as flamboyant people who can wear just about anything they want, and men as conformist pants wearers, trapped by society's norms."

Wear anything you want, as long as it's a skirt!

Somebody's beautiful example above pointed out that the typical men/trousers-women/skirt signage teaches their child that all the other warnings/signs* in their environment are either A) for men only, or B) that the 'men' symbol is also a visual shortcut also meaning 'people'. Which do you think the child will eventually adopt?

*Walk/run/stop, recycle, bike here/there, luggage/security, in case of emergency, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:09 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Did anyone else notice that they messed up the ZW/ZZ chromosome sign? ZW individuals are female, yo.
posted by DoktorFaustus at 6:07 AM on September 3, 2010


I'm not a shy bathroom goer, but if I knew I had to go make a joyful noise, I'd head to a different part of the building, where at least I wouldn't run into my boss.

This is funny and kind of true (LOVE the wording), and made me think about another funny situation. I work at a women's college, in a department that has nine women and one man. The building that my dept. is in has been various things over its lifetime, and as a result, some of our folks have offices with tiny bathrooms (toilet + sink) attached.

My male colleague is one of these folks--stands to reason, I figured, because the only men's room in the building is down in the basement (we're on the second floor) and it's polite to give him more readily available facilities. However--not long ago I found out that he usually goes downstairs anyway because "it's too weird to go to the bathroom in your office."

Hadn't thought about it in those terms before, but I guess I get the point. If you drop a deuce in there (despite the door, it's a small space and ventilation just ain't that great) there's no way to make an easy escape so people don't automatically associate it with you. I figure that the distance between yourself and your effluvia--and other people--is also a consideration in spacing out public and semi-public toilets, and probably another reason women and men often don't want to go in the same bathroom, even if it's a single-seater.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:55 AM on September 3, 2010


As they say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:29 AM on September 3, 2010


Thinking of some of the men's rooms I've seen/heard male friends talk about in terms of cleanliness... uh, I'm pretty happy with women's-only rooms.

I've cleaned women's bathrooms, and they were just as gross as the men's.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2010


Just about every sentence begs the question, it simply reeks of penis envy. I'm laughing.

Did you ever notice it's pretty much only ever men who talk about penis envy?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:50 AM on September 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


> "it's too weird to go to the bathroom in your office."

This is why I don't understand the appeal of a "master bedroom" with an attached "master bath." I do not want to poop in my bedroom.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:59 AM on September 3, 2010


Did you ever notice it's pretty much only ever men who talk about penis envy?

That's because the penis is so self-evidently awesome that everyone wants one!

Oh wait. Um...?

D:
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Further from de-gendering bathrooms, I want a universal symbol that lets you know if the bathroom is a single-room or a stall-situation

There is one. A doorknob.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:36 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm going to have to go back and read the comments in this thread, but one thing that this reminded me of was the bathroom situation at the many Starbucks locations I've worked at. There were two bathrooms that were for only one person to use at a time, but they still had gendered signs on them. I'd see women standing outside the bathrooms waiting, and say that they could use the men's room (knowing that it was unoccupied), since it was basically the same thing as the ladies room, and so many people would just wait rather than use a restroom with a "men" sign on it. I wished we could change those signs to something stupid like regular and decaf, rather than have gendered restrooms. Especially since so many times on vacation in Europe, I'd see one restroom labeled "w.c." in a restaurant or wherever, which basically was the restroom that everyone used. If there aren't stalls in the restroom, why bother with gendered labels at all?
posted by zorrine at 10:52 AM on September 3, 2010


> Why is that? Because they're not sexually interested in you? You're making two assumptions here:
> #1) men are attracted to women and are interested in their bra straps, #2) women are not attracted
> to women and thus are uninterested.
>
> Both are faulty.
> posted by sonika at 7:31 PM on September 2 [+] [!]

"has exceptions" ≠ "faulty." Exceptio probat regulam.
posted by jfuller at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2010


> I just assumed it was a really clumsy way (or perhaps just oversimplified way) of stating
> that men are the unmarked gender; everybody else is marked. In an unmarked/marked
> labeling system, the unmarked category is the norm, default or metonymic stand-in for the
> supra category (in this case, 'people') and the marked category is the 'other'.
> posted by iamkimiam at 7:19 PM on September 2 [3 favorites +] [!]

If man-ness were really the unquestioned, unscrutinized default case, there would never be any discussion of what a real man would do. Since there is, it is not.
posted by jfuller at 11:17 AM on September 3, 2010


Men don't want to share a toilet with women, because men don't want women to find out how rarely the men wash their hands.

I am consistently amazed at the amount of people (women) who are willing to forgo washing their hands after using the public toilet in other peoples' presence. This is why I hate the main doors to restrooms, since they're often "pull" to get out, and I know my freshly washed hands don't stand a chance... *shudder*.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:24 AM on September 3, 2010


If man-ness were really the unquestioned, unscrutinized default case, there would never be any discussion of what a real man would do. Since there is, it is not.
Markedness. Just read the first paragraph and get back to us.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:24 AM on September 3, 2010


For all those wondering how to signal that a toilet is unisex, have you not encountered this sign? You see it all over the place in my part of the world.
posted by Dreadnought at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2010


It's incredibly biased to start with the assumption that "Men are people, and women are other," though.

Consider that if the two images were not compared with each other, but separately presented to observers, or perhaps compared with pictographs of other animals or objects (a house, a cat, a flower, a bird, and so on), which do you imagine would more commonly be gender-identified and which would more often get a generic label like "person"?

I think the issue is the same as using the words "man" and "woman" and then using "man" as the general term as well. The image for "man" is also acceptable as an image for "human being" whereas the image for "woman" is specific to the female portion of the species.

A high percentage of NYC restaurants/bars have "it's up to you" bathrooms, or at very least, people don't much care and I don't much notice. But once in a hurry I used the (one person) men's room at work and got yelled at so clearly it matters to some people. Also it's more complicated when it's multi-person. Someone on the comments of that blog was saying that the women's room is a "sanctuary" and one of the few places a woman can go and not be objectified, so she was anti-unisex from what could be interpreted as a feminist perspective. (personally I don't care, but can't assume the reason to care is just some sort of brainwashed vision of gender...)
posted by mdn at 1:13 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


A high percentage of NYC restaurants/bars have "it's up to you" bathrooms, or at very least, people don't much care and I don't much notice.

One time on the way home from work, I stopped at my beloved White Castle for half-dozen or so murderburgers. I love 'em but they have that well known ...after-effect. So by the time the subway pulled into my stop I was a mite desperate and clenched and all. I ran into a bar. The mens room was occupied and locked. So i went into the empty ladies room and did my thing. No irate women folk busted down the door and I did not grow a vagina. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 5:30 PM on September 3, 2010


aqsakal: "If I make a pit-stop with Mrs aqsakal, I have time for a pee, a hamburger and fries and a coffee while she is still queueing. OK, so we males are pretty fast with our peeing"

Civil_Disobedient: "Because guys piss faster than women. We piss so fast"

See, if I'm just peeing, I can be in and out in 30 seconds too. The problem is that women often have to fix up their clothing (undies, pantyhose, maybe a belt) and change their pads/tampons.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:20 PM on September 5, 2010


« Older "The ultimate movie scene of India,or the world ma...  |  Arizona Republicans accused of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments